Dane County Public Safety Communications Director Joe Norwick gave a press conference to a packed room of media and government officials at the City-County Building late Thursday morning. He delivered a prepared address regarding the 911 call that was determined to have been made by UW student Brittany Zimmermann before she was killed by one or more unknown assailants in the Bassett neighborhood in downtown Madison on Wednesday, April 2. As reported in Isthmus by Jason Shepard, there was no response to her initial call for help.
The most significant is that the 911 Center received a call from Zimmermann before she was killed, did not dispatch police, and then did not immediately or accurately inform the Police Department about the call after cops found her body, law enforcement officials tell Isthmus.
Sources suggest the center may have made a call-back to a wrong number, where the person who answered assured that no crisis was occurring. One source says cops might have been better situated to make a quick arrest had mistakes not been made by the 911 Center.
Over the past two and a half weeks, the 911 Center has refused requests for basic information about the calls. This week, Joe Norwick, director of the Dane County 911 Center since July, declined further opportunities to comment after being provided with a written summary of parts of this story.
In an email, Norwick said he was basing his refusal on a request from the Madison Police Department to withhold all information "pertaining to this matter" because release would "seriously impair" the murder investigation.
Madison police officials vigorously dispute this. While declining to call the 911 Center's action a cover-up, they suggested that Norwick is improperly using the department as an excuse not to own up to his agency's mistakes.
Norwick spoke at today's press conference, his statement focusing on the large volumne of calls, both genuine and in error, received by the 911 center on a daily basis. He says:
The Public Safety Communications Center receives a high volumne of 9-1-1 calls made either accidentally or intentionally in error. 115 of these so-called 9-1-1 hang-up calls were received on April 2nd from landlines and cell phones.
83 of these calls were placed from cell phones. These calls can range from children playing with pones, buttons inadvertently bumped on phones left in coat pockets or purses, or crime victims looking for help....
Detectives during the course of their investigation discovered a 9-1-1 call from what was subsequently determined to be placed from Ms. Zimmerman's [sic] phone on April 2nd. A 9-1-1 Center review later confirmed this.
Further investigation revealed a dispatcher answered this call, and inquired several times to determine whether an emergency existed on the other end of the phone and received no answer to the inquiries. The dispatcher proceeded to answer another 9-1-1 call that was waiting to be answered.
The call was another 9-1-1 hang-up call. The dispatcher called back the second 9-1-1 call, confirmed the call wasn't an emergency, and proceeded to immediately answer another 9-1-1 call regarding an unwanted person in a residence.
Under current policy, if dispatchers answer a 9-1-1 call and either don't hear a voice on the other end of the call or are unable to determine if there's an emergency, the dispatcher calls that number back. However, at their request, law enforcement officers are only automatically dispatched if the call was received from a landline phone.
Multiple Dane County and City of Madison elected officials and staff were present at the meeting. "It's my district," says Dane County Board Supv. Scott McDonell of his reason for attending. Mayoral staffers Joel Plant and George Twigg were in attendance as well.
As noted by Norwick, there were still no plans to release the audio of Zimmermann's 9-1-1 call as late as Wednesday.